Tag Archives: mystery

10Dec/18

The Taliesin Affair by Steve Turnbull

The Taliesin Affair is an interesting book, a mix of whodunnit, social history and steampunk, a genre I haven’t read before.

I wasn’t convinced at first. The main protagonist, Maliha Anderson, seemed a remote and cold figure, which didn’t bode well when she was the driving force of the plot. But as the story progressed, I began to respect her more. She is of mixed race, with a daily struggle against prejudice and snobbery, and that had given her a hard shell to protect herself. She is also highly intelligent. We see the thoughts going through her head as she tries to unravel the mystery of the body in the library. The victim is a bully who has given Mahila grief in the past, so she isn’t sad about her demise. This is understandable, but Mahila seems unable to show any emotion at all, which led me to believe maybe I had missed a crucial part of her character.

She is ably assisted by a much warmer friend, Margaret, inexplicably known as Sadie, who smoothes Mahila’s path through the social minefield. There is always a danger when major characters have code names and suchlike, as it makes a complex plot sometimes harder to follow. It helps that Margaret (Sadie) has to be reminded from time to time that she is working undercover. She’s a perfect foil to the serious Mahila, and provides a welcome lightness of tone.

There is a subtle humour running through the book, so subtle sometimes I wondered if I was imagining it. As a whodunnit, with definite Agatha Christie undertones and a social commentary, it is an excellent read. Glad to see the women taking charge for a change, and for the author not to fall into the trap of so many stories about privileged boarding schools. I couldn’t find a single overdone stereotype. Mahila’s interest in machinery was an intriguing element as well, and could have been used more in relation to the plot, rather than just providing interesting scenery.

So although I found the main character hard to identify with, The Taliesin Affair was an enjoyable and ambitious read, and an interesting addition to the crime genre. Worth noting the lesbian romance running in the background, handled with grace and dignity.

Beautiful cover as well.

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Boarding school can be hell – sometimes it can be MURDER

So far from her home in India, Maliha Anderson did not enjoy life in her British boarding school, but discovering the school bully murdered certainly made it more interesting.

And when the police chose the wrong person as the most likely suspect, Maliha decides to investigate and reveal the true culprit.

But, as the bodies mount up, the murder becomes a plot, and the plot becomes a conspiracy aimed at the heart of the British Empire.

When Maliha herself comes under suspicion, she realises her only chance lies in a dangerous gambit that risks the lives of herself and the people she’s come to know.

This is Maliha Anderson’s first case but can be read at any point in the series (except perhaps between books 5 and 6).

29Mar/18

Closer by F.E. Feeley Jr.

Listen to F.E. Feeley Jr’s latest interview on Episode 155: A Fun Return to the Dark Side!

This book had a lot to live up to. After the sublime When Heaven Strikes, I put a lot of (rather unfair) expectations on this book. The author’s writing skill and storytelling ability isn’t in doubt, but would I feel the same about Closer as I did about Heaven?

The truth is, they cannot be compared, because they are intrinsically different. Yes, there is a new relationship at the heart of the novel, when Hayden moves into his new lakeside house and meets the gorgeous, straight-seeming Tommy, but then the mystery begins. At first, I thought it would be a straight-up ghost story, but the horrors begin to build, and Maplewood, the eponymous small town on a lake, is the centre of some very disturbing activity.

The action and tension builds very nicely. Tommy seems devoid of the angst that straight people can have when faced with unfamiliar feelings for a member of their own sex. It makes a refreshing change and as a result, doesn’t get in the way of the main story. The good people and bad people are established quickly and don’t really change. In the best tradition of horror novels, you kind of know who is going to get offed, yet there definitely some I didn’t expect. I liked the way the characters were drawn, reminiscent of Dean Koontz. (It’s a compliment. I LIKE Dean Koontz’s work. It seems more accessible and human than some of Stephen King’s…) There is a touch of religion without pulpit posturing, some vivid imagery, and an exciting denouement, leading on to another book whilst nicely rounding off this one. The author likes to leave things tidy, and so he does, with very satisfactory results.

The two leads were very personable and believable. Hayden’s grief over losing his partner was raw and handled brilliantly. Tommy’s love for Hayden, being devoid of the gay-for-you angst I mentioned earlier, was very touching without being sugar-sweet. Yes, a leap of believability was needed at the end in regards to both Hayden and Tommy’s incipient powers (no spoilers,) but I was beguiled by the author’s storytelling. If the reader goes with it, they will be well-rewarded.

Finally, there is an alluring ‘To be continued…’ at the end, but this book can easily be read as a standalone. However, this couple are shaping up to be an interesting team, and I’m curious to know what else the author has in store for them!

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Maplewood, Vermont is a picturesque town filled with unique shops, unique homes, and a quaint familiarity all centered around a lake with an unusual history.

Legends, old as well as Urban, float around like the mist that hovers above the lake at break of dawn.

But they’re just stories, right?

Hayden Moore’s life was destroyed when his husband, Malcolm, was murdered. Giving up his job as an assistant district attorney in Boston, Hayden moved to the little burg of Maplewood to recover.

A new life.

A fresh start.

However, something underneath the water is stirring. Something rotten. A deadly secret wakes underneath the black waters of Lake Veronica so disturbing it haunts the nightmares of the local residents.

It’s coming closer…

17Nov/17

The Laconic Lumberjack (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 4) by Frank W. Butterfield

Frank W. Butterfield was one our lovely recent guests! To find out more about him and get links to his work, check out Episode 138: It’s All True and Very Silly!

REVIEW

This was an interesting one, the 4th book in a long running series of stories featuring fabulously wealthy P.I. Nick Williams and his partner, Carter. Set in 1953, when bigotry and homophobia were legal and enforced by law, the two men tread a fine line between living their lives as they want to, but always aware their loving relationship could land them in jail.

Having said that, this is a jolly escapade in the main, possibly a little too jolly, considering that Carter’s father has just been murdered in a most grisly way, and a local black man has been arrested as a result. Nick hires a plane forthwith, and off they go to Georgia, where every stereotype of Southern man and woman-kind awaits to cause them all kinds of problems. This wasn’t a bad thing though, because let’s face it, a LOT of people in the 21st century are walking stereotypes.

It’s hard not to like this story, although I ran up against a few niggles that threw me off a bit. The first, and biggest, were the occasions when a character would do or say something, “for some reason.” As a reader and writer, I am always looking for reasons. They don’t need to be immediate or blatant, but they need to be there. Adding nuances to writing can be difficult, especially when there are a lot of characters and different plot lines zinging about, but the phrase would have been better left on the cutting room floor, so that the reader could make their own decision as to what the reason was.

The other niggle, possibly because I’m a curmudgeon, is the uneasy mix of tough subjects (racism, homophobia, murder, lynchings) with the amount of time the characters spent laughing. They all seemed rather too happy. Possibly this was because trust-funded golden boy, Nick, could afford to buy everyone out of trouble. If this makes him sound like a bit of a wanker, he really isn’t. He and Carter are so achingly sweet, especially together, it could make your teeth hurt if you’re in any way a cynic. The sex is fade to black, as it would have been in any respectable 1950’s film, so anyone expecting woody shenanigans will not get them.

Instead, there is a lot of other stuff to enjoy. The plot weaves and ducks and dives. The author throws a lot at them, jail-time for Nick, followed by a  kangaroo court, and inserting him and Carter in with a lot of rufty-tufty lumberjacks to try to weed out the murderer. I looked forward to a woodsaw-related climax, especially after the gory death (off-script) earlier but bearing in mind the novel is 1950-esque, with the restraint, decency and politeness of that era, it’s best to read the book to find out if and when that happens.

On the whole, bar the few hiccups, I enjoyed it. Nick and Carter are engaging, fun and cute, even though people around them keep dropping dead. Readers not wanting sex and too many f-bombs, and who appreciate a sense of decorum as well as humour, will enjoy this retro romp very much indeed.

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It’s just another Thursday morning in July of 1953 when the doorbell rings at 137 Hartford Street and it’s bad news.

Carter’s father has been murdered in Georgia and the local sheriff has no intention of finding out who really did it.

So, Nick and Carter borrow the first plane that Marnie, Nick’s amazing secretary, can find for them and they zoom off back into the past to see if they can uncover the truth of what really happened before the wrong man is convicted. And, knowing the lay of the land under the moss-covered oaks, Carter is pretty sure that the color of a man’s skin will figure heavily in who takes the fall.

In The Laconic Lumberjack, the best Nick can do is stand by Carter’s side as he confronts an awful past, uncovers some surprising secrets, and deals with the unsavory reality of small-town hypocrisy.

In the end, Nick and Carter discover more about themselves than they ever expected to find.

03Nov/17

Marshall Thornton

November 3, 2017


It gives us great pleasure to welcome Marshall Thornton as the guest on Episode 136: Enjoy What You Enjoy!

This week Marshall Thornton joins the show to discuss his novel, Night Drop, writing gay mysteries, and the love of RomCom!

Follow Marshall and support his work:

Bio:

Marshall Thornton is the author of the popular Boystown series. He has been a finalist for the Lambda Award five times and won once. His romantic comedy, Femme was a 2016 Lambda finalist for Best Gay Romance. Other books include My Favorite Uncle, The Ghost Slept Over and Desert Run.

He is a member of Mystery Writers of America.

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30Oct/17

Code For Murder by Eliot Parker

Back in September 2017, Eliot Parker was one of our lovely guests on WROTE. To learn more about Eliot and find links to his work, Episode 128: Show Up and Keep the Chair Warm

I do like a good murder, and the vicious stabbing of a handsome, popular US football player heralded a promising start. The novel is packed with familiar themes; the anti-social female detective with a complicated private life and severe health issues, the seemingly popular victim who has dark secrets, a drugs deal that goes horribly wrong, and a handsome, out-of-reach-because-he’s-married colleague. This is good thing when it provides anchorage for a plot that becomes quite involved.

This book illustrates how hard it is to write a strong female character who is also sympathetic. The essential element, whether male or female, is that one thing which makes you care about them.  With strong females especially, they have to work twice as hard to prove their worth.

I sense the author wanted to show us how Stacy’s behavior and decisions came about because she was trying to “prove herself” and/or close the case at all costs. I just wish that her motivation was more sharp-focussed. With peripheral characters, the book seemed to pick up on the current US television trend for “love-to-hate” shows (eg., House of Cards) which are full of people with dubious qualities and ideals. The plot was nicely convoluted though, and held some genuine surprises.

This would have been a much tighter, more compelling read with a bit of judicious pruning by the editors. Some of the descriptions of place were unnecessary, and forced my concentration away from the action. For example, I didn’t need to know the interior design of a supermarket, because it wasn’t relevant to the story. These chunks of prose, as well as some clunky dialogue, got in the way of what was shaping up to be a tensely-plotted whodunnit.

Stacy had a tough perspective for me to get into, but in the end, the book is a solid crime drama, with a female character that doesn’t make excuses for how she is. I wouldn’t put other readers off getting to know Stacy, as long as they know what they’re going to get.


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An overzealous decision by Cleveland Police Lieutenant Stacy Tavitt leads to a botched undercover investigation, leading to Stacy being attacked and her unconscious body dumped into the frigid Cuyahoga River. Six months later, Stacy’s first case back from medical leave involves the murder of Cleveland Browns football player Devon Baker. With little forensic evidence connecting anyone to the crime, Stacy sets out to find the killer. As Stacy comes very close to unraveling the tangled threads of the case, the killer wants her, and those close to her, to suffer for another impulsive decision she made in the line of duty. The killer just may be more familiar to Stacy than she realizes.

08Sep/17

Eliot Parker

September 8, 2017


It gives us great pleasure to welcome Eliot Parker as the guest on Episode 128: Show Up and Keep the Chair Warm

This week Eliot Parker joins the show to discuss his new release A Code for Murder, characters with flaws and drive, and then shares some advice for authors prepping for interviews based on his own experience as an interviewer!

Follow Eliot and support his work:

Bio:

Eliot Parker is the author of three novels: Breakdown at Clear River, Making Arrangements, and Fragile Brilliance. He currently teaches writing and literature at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington, West Virginia, and hosts the television show “Chapters” across the Armstrong Television Network, which profiles authors, editors, and publishers in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.

 

This Podcast Episode is
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25Jul/17

Remains by J. Warren

Scholastic author J. Warren has recently been on our show! To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That’s a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn’t sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn’t actually like him very much. He didn’t seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It’s difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn’t expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the “small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet” genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I’m choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn’t want to put the book down until I’d finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.

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J. Warren’s Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson’s disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.

24May/17

Review of Their Plane From Nowhere by Tarian P.S.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. The author is a memorable presence on social media, with outspoken views and unafraid to stand up for strongly-held values, but can they actually write?

The short answer is …. hell yes! This is a massively entertaining, angsty yet tender, hot in places, story of two guys in their fifties (how refreshing…) who ain’t pretty to anyone apart from each other (their own words,) who have already found true, lasting love after a lifetime of tragedy, regrets and missed opportunities. There’s no “will they/won’t they” moments, as these guys have already found a happiness of sorts, even though their family lives and friendships are complicated to say the least, especially when the truth comes out about their relationship.

This novella is the whole package for me, an extremely professional self-published novella which shows how self-publishing should be done, from the two adorable bears on the front cover to the neat blurb telling you what you get in this story, to the crisp editing. This book packs a whole lotta punch for its weight. We have the story of widower Hank and unhappily married Earl, told in their distinctive Poconos Mountain drawl, and their love for each other whilst dealing with family bigotry, a poisonous wife and what happens when they accidentally out themselves in their small community. The answer: Not what you’d expect, including the arrival of a mysterious plane on the lake outside Hank’s home. It comes, it goes, and no-one knows why. This is the paranormal element of the story, with two normal humans trying to figure out why it is there.

I read this story honestly not knowing what to expect. Sometimes you can see the ending a mile off, with an HEA glowing in the distance. With this book, you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next. I loved the way the book was told, with a backwaters Pennsylvanian rhythm that felt completely unaffected, and the love between Hank and Earl, culminating in several tender yet scorching sex scenes. The way that Earl treated his kids, and Hank dealing with the grief of losing his was sublime. I really invested in these characters, even though the book was fairly short, and felt as if I was gaining a privileged insight into their personal lives.

Okay, possibly the denouement felt a little too neat, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book, and the mystery of the plane was heartbreaking. I’m not insulting it by saying it felt like a particularly bittersweet episode of Little House On The Prairie, only set in the 21st century, and with beefy guys having hot, honest sex as a bonus. And a neat addition is their favourite recipe for cheesy popcorn included at the back!

A great, standalone mystery romance for those who don’t necessarily want to read about pretty boys. And there are more in the Teddy Bear collection. I’ll definitely read more by this author.

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In their small town in the Pocono Mountains, Earl Knox and Hank Grisset have never been considered among the pretty ones to anyone but each other. As lucky as Hank and Earl consider themselves to have found each other, that’s about as far as luck has gone. All those Could’ah— Should’ah— Would’ah— moments a man never sees comin’, but that don’t stop him from regrettin’ them later in life.

When Earl makes a critical decision that ultimately outs him and Hank, a mysterious plane shows up at their lake house. Coming out in a small town can erase friendships in a heartbeat. But when a rift in the family leads to a life-threatening accident, only their love for each other is gonna get them through this—that, and their plane from nowhere.